If you ever picture it at all, the music you might expect to hear pumping from the stereo at Will Smith’s house is probably some old-school hip-hop: Spoonie Gee, classic KRS-One, a bit of Grandmaster Flash. But if wife Jada Pinkett Smith is home, it’s more likely to be an ear-bleeding mix of metal from Mastodon, A Dozen Furies, Otep and Bury Your Dead.
“I listened to all kinds of metal as a kid,” said Pinkett Smith, who has spent the past few years honing her hard-rock chops as frontwoman of Wicked Wisdom, a band that’s put in such serious road time lately that the actress has been all but invisible on the big screen since its formation four years ago. “Metallica, Guns N’ Roses. I would always look at Axl Rose and say, ‘Why aren’t there any chicks out there doing this now?’ I always wanted an opportunity to get out there and rock out.”
So in 2002 Pinkett Smith decided it was now or never. She called a friend in the music biz and asked him to help her get a band together and shortly after, she met the Zakk Wylde to her Ozzy, guitarist Pocket Honore. At first, the group tried out a “rock/soul fusion thing” that didn’t quite feel right, hitting the road in 2004 opening for the European leg of Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel tour.
“It was on that tour that we realized we wanted a more metal thing and we started writing more on that tip,” she said. “It just started getting heavier and heavier, and that’s when it clicked for us.” Around that time, Honore brought on keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Cameron Graves and former Fishbone drummer Phillip “Fish” Fisher. While Pinkett Smith was finding her inner demon as the band worked out grinders like “You Can’t Handle This” in the studio, the real trial by fire came last summer when the untested group hit the Ozzfest stage (see “Ozzfest Gets Jiggy? Jada Pinkett Smith’s Band Added To Lineup” ).
Honore, who cut his chops working on R&B and hip-hop tracks with everyone from Erykah Badu to Patti LaBelle, gave up his lucrative production/session playing career to sign on with Pinkett Smith. He said the actress was understandably nervous when they first started playing together, but by the time they hit Ozzfest, her confidence was apparent. “At first it was too cute and we all agreed it had to be more brutal,” he said. “Cameron is big into Meshuggah and I love Slipknot, so we played her some tracks along those lines and she said, ‘Yeah, right there!’ ”
Four lineups and two albums’ worth of material later, the band jelled, and Honore was ready for anything that Ozzfest crowds could dish out. “I done been in barroom brawls before,” he said, citing some early dates that were a bit rocky. “But once word got out that we weren’t a joke, people started coming out and by the sixth or seventh gig we were on fire.”
Pinkett Smith, who listened to everything from Duran Duran to Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, Prince, Pink Floyd and Mozart as a kid, described the feeling of rocking onstage as being wholly different from kicking ass as Niobe in “The Matrix” sequels.
“Onstage, I’m giving them Jada, versus me giving them a character,” she said. “And some people like Jada and some don’t, and that’s part of it. It really grounds you and empowers you when you can get onstage and know you had a good show someplace where no one’s ever heard of you. And the audience might not be that enthusiastic, but you rocked out and had a good-ass time. The difference is when you do a crappy movie in Hollywood, everyone says ‘great job.’ On Ozzfest, if you’re crappy they get you off the stage and you know where you stand. Nobody’s out there clapping because they want to protect your feelings.”
Though songs like “Don’t Hate Me” do have Pinkett Smith showing off her Korn-inspired rap skills, hubby Will has made a conscious effort to let Wicked Wisdom stay Jada’s thing. Besides, she knows she doesn’t flow well. “I asked him about my little rap thing on that song and he was like, ‘You know, it’s cool.’ ”
Opinion on Wisdom’s upcoming self-titled debut album (out February 21) is split in the Smith household. While son Jaden likes mommy’s songs, he’s more of a hip-hop head and is always asking for Will’s music. Five-year-old daughter Willow, however, is a huge metal fan. “She has as better growl than I do,” Pinkett Smith said. “I dropped her off at school the other day and she said, ‘You know I’ll have a better band than you do.’ ” You’ve been warned. Look for Bloody Eye on Ozzfest 2018.
Except for a pair of projects she’s considering for this summer, Pinkett Smith has put her acting on hold to concentrate on Wicked Wisdom. They are currently on the road opening for Sevendust and have more dates planned for late summer and fall. “This is passion,” she said, pointing to some of the dark themes she wrote about on such songs as “Bleed All Over Me” (codependency) and “Something Inside of Me” (pedophilia) as examples of the release the band affords her. “I feel really blessed and grateful to have this opportunity.”
Wicked Wisdom track listing, according to Pinkett Smith:
- “Yesterday Don’t Mean”
- “Something Inside of Me”
- “Bleed All Over Me”
- “Cruel Intentions”
- “You Can’t Handle”
- “Set Me Free”
- “Don’t Hate Me”
Wicked Wisdom tour dates, according to the band’s publicist:
- 2/2 – Fort Wayne, IN @ Piere’s
- 2/3 – South Bend, IN @ Club Fever
- 2/4 – Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart’s
- 2/5 – Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live
- 2/9 – Springfield, IL @ The Warehouse
- 2/11 – Appleton, WI @ The Checkered Flag
- 2/12 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave
- 2/14 – Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
- 2/16 – Boise, ID @ Big Easy
- 2/17 – Spokane, WA @ Big Easy
- 2/21 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
- 2/25 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
- 2/26 – West Hollywood, CA @ House of Blues
- 2/28 – Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
- 3/2 – Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre
- 3/3 – Las Vegas @ House of Blues